When Faced With the Raven
Of all works of poetry, few are as well known as Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." It's narrative nature and a gothic, gloomy ambient appeal to the human's appetite for entertainment, and this makes "The Raven" very popular among all kinds of readers. This, along with a romantic, tragic theme helped "The Raven" to become Poe's best poem. Yet there is more to this masterpiece then just an intriguing story. "The Raven" explores the coherence of a man who realizes how powerless he is when faced with fate.
The subject is quite appealing and it is clear Poe intended to create a poem everyone could read, for it is really easy for any mature person to identify with someone who has lost the loved one. So, it is not by accident that Poe uses two most favored topics in poetry, love and death. Poe himself admitted to his attentions in "Philosophy of Composition" by saying that "the death of a beautiful woman is the most poetical topic in the world." Whether it is the most poetical in the world or not, it definitely is timeless, as the millions of copies in many different languages prove.
The poem is a hundred and eight lines long; therefore it couldn't be considered short, but it is not too long so as to bore the reader. It seems that Poe had this in mind for he, according to "Philosophy of Composition," considered a hundred lines "not above the popular, while not below the critical taste." The entire poem is filled with repetitions, rhymes, imagery, color, onomatopoeia, and other decorations which help the reader to sense the atmosphere, and assure that he is emotionally involved. One can almost hear the "rustling" of the "purple curtain," and can be surprised by the "tapping" at the "chamber door." Each of the eighteen stanzas is decorated with triple rhymes - the second, the fourth, and the fifth verse rhyme, creating the melancholic echo. The first line of each stanza has inner rhyme, like in "Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December." The sound of the refrain "Nevermore" is monotone, and the refrain keeps coming back, it is inevitable, just like the fate is. Though these monotonous repetitions sound melancholic, the poem is highly dramatic thanks to the meaning of the words and cleverly designed culmination of events. Many words, such as Aidenn and nepenthe, are ancient or poetic, which seems quite appropriate given that the narrator is a man who spends most of his time reading the books of "forgotten lore". All this is very helpful in creating the overall effect of the poem - beauty and horror.
The story of "The Raven," filled with symbols which raise this poem to a higher level of art,
begins at midnight in a "bleak December". This midnight might very well be the New Year's eve, which denotes the ending of the past year, or the ending of the narrator's life as he knew it. A man tries to ease his sorrow for the lost Lenore by distracting his mind with the old books. He is in his study filled with memories of his loved one. These memories are the only thing left of her, on earth she is "Nameless here for evermore." The "tempest" outside is in contrast with the calm of a man who is "nearly napping." He is brought back to the world of reality by some "tapping" and "rustling" of the curtain. The narrator then whispers "Lenore" into the darkness, but there is only an echo. At his point it seems like the man is withdrawing into an imaginary world where his books can't guide him anymore. The narrator then opens the shutter, and as he does it, he opens his soul to the outside world. To his surprise, a raven flies in, and sits on a bust of Pallas. Both the raven and the bust of Pallas are the symbols. The raven is a symbol of death, but also can be considered a symbol of fate, as Poe considered him "the bird of ill-omen." The bust of Pallas represents wisdom, since Pallas was the goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology. The raven perching on the bust is a sharp contrast between fate and wisdom. Fate is above wisdom and it directs everything that is going to happen. In "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe wrote that he wanted a creature without reasoning to utter the words "Nevermore," for it was unnatural for human being to repeat the single word over and over. First, he thought of a parrot, but then realized that raven is much more suitable for the intended effect. The narrator welcomed this frightening creature and asked it if he would fly away in the morning, as his "hopes have flown before."
The raven just kept answering: "Nevermore." Wondering what the bird meant "in croaking 'Nevermore'," the narrator pulled a chair in front of the bust. But the chair reminded him of Lenore, the chair that "She shall press, ah, nevermore!" Then, slowly, the atmosphere became strange, like in a dream, as the narrator thought "the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer." Here the narrator starts to see raven as a demon, while all the sorrow and pain of the death of Lenore is brought back to his memory. The narrator is not calm anymore, but has become mad and frantic. He calls the raven a wretch and begs for nepenthe so he can forget his sorrow, but the raven tells him he can forget it nevermore. Then the most important question arises, and the story culminates. Will he reunite with Lenore ever again? After the raven answers "Nevermore" one more time, the narrator shrieks and tries to chase the bird away, but the raven "still is sitting, still is sitting." The narrator wants to erase the memories of this ghastly apparition, but every time he looks at the bust of Pallas, the two starring eyes above the bust remind him of his pain.
The rational order of the world of the narrator has been disrupted by the appearance of the raven. The raven is a fate that cannot be escaped, no matter how much wisdom, or reason, or sanity, one tries to use. The narrator's soul is shattered, and after his insight into the insanity of his world, it "Shall be lifted - nevermore."